Leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) is a cytokine known to influence proliferation and/or survival of mouse primordial germ cells (PGC) in culture. The receptor complex for LIF comprises LIF-binding subunit and non-binding signal transducer, gp130. The gp130 was originally identified as a signal-transducing subunit of interleukin (IL)-6 and later also found to be a functional component of receptor complexes for other LIF-related cytokines (oncostatin M [OSM], ciliary neurotrophic factor [CNTF] and IL-11). In this study, we have analyzed the functional role of gp130-mediated signaling in PGC growth in vitro. OSM was able to fully substitute for LIF; both cytokines promoted the proliferation of migratory PGC (mPGC) and enhanced the viability of postmigratory (colonizing) PGC (cPGC) when cultured on SI/SI4-m220 cells. Interestingly, IL-11 stimulated mPGC growth comparable to LIF and OSM, but did not affect cPGC survival. IL-6 and CNTF did not affect PGC. In addition, a combination of IL-6 and soluble IL-6 binding subunit (sIL-6R), which is known to activate intracellular signaling via gp130, fully reproduced the LIF action of PGC. Both in the presence and absence of LIF, addition of neutralizing antibody against gp130 in culture remarkably blocked cPGC survival. These results suggest a pivotal role of gp130 in PGC development, especially that it is indispensable for cPGC survival as comparable to the c-KIT-mediated action. We have further demonstrated that a combination of LIF with forskolin or retinoic acid, a potent mitogen for PGC, supported the proliferation of PGC, leading to propagation of the embryonic stem cell-like cells, termed embryonic germ (EG) cells. Since EG cells were also obtained by using OSM or the IL-6/sIL-6R complex in place of LIF, a significant contribution of gp130-mediated signaling in EG cell formation was further suggested.

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